When Alex Kipman, the inventor of HoloLens, asked Ori Amiga to join his team, he couldn’t tell him exactly what he’d be working on. “Our mission was to ‘invent the future of computing, and turn science fiction into science fact,’” Amiga says.
Joining HoloLens was not an easy decision for Amiga, especially since his wife Suzanne was in the middle of her pregnancy with the couple’s first child. “Personally, I thought we had only a 1 in 10 shot of making it to market,” he says. But he knew Kipman had lined up an exceptional team, and Suzanne encouraged him to “jump off the cliff.” He’s never looked back — with or without his holographic glasses.
HoloLens is Microsoft’s venture in the world of mixed reality. The device is a wearable, self-contained holographic computer — think virtual reality goggles. But mixed reality is different from virtual reality, which is different from augmented reality. Mixed reality allows people to see the real environment around them, with virtual objects added to the space. For example, mixed reality could simulate a movie projected on your wall, even without a screen or projector in the room.
Microsoft is investing a lot in this field, and the company shipped its first device to developers about a year ago. The research includes not only the product itself, but also related capabilities like 3D modeling tools added to other Microsoft products such as PowerPoint and even Paint. The idea is to let everyone design and build 3D worlds that could integrate into HoloLens.
Leading the creation of this platform and ecosystem is part of Amiga’s job as director of program management. “Giving birth to new product categories is never easy, but in the case of HoloLens, there were some particularly unique challenges given how bleeding-edge the technology is,” he says. Most of the components had to be custom designed and built from scratch, such as the Holographic Processing Unit, the world’s most advanced mobile depth camera; environment- and human-understanding algorithms; and clear holographic lenses.
Part of his challenge is making the technology fall outside our consciousness. “We want technology to be more human and behave in ways where the person using it doesn’t really have to think about it, allowing us to unlock new magic moments,” Amiga says. “For example, in Alex Kipman’s TED talk, we demonstrated the notion of holoportation, which has a piece of technology like HoloLens embed the 3D holographic image of another person into your own environment, allowing you to talk to that person as if she or he is in the room.” Instead of talking into a microphone and looking at a monitor or holding a phone in your hand, you’ll be chatting with a friend virtually in person. That would be the closest we’ve come to teleportation.
“Are holograms and mixing the real and virtual worlds the ultimate way to make technology seamless? That’s what my team and I spend our days pondering,” Amiga says. “But the truth is that it’s only the beginning, and there are many more ways to do so. We are here to go down that rabbit hole.”